If Barcelona end up winning the Champions League this season they will have done it the hard way. After their extraordinary comeback against Paris Saint-German in the previous round, they will need to do something similar against Juventus after being well beaten in the quarter-final first leg in Turin on Tuesday.
Paulo Dybala was the catalyst as Juventus took revenge for their defeat by Barcelona in the 2015 final. The 23-year-old Argentina forward eclipsed his compatriot Lionel Messi, with whom he has drawn comparison, to score two excellent first-half goals. Both were the product of sweet left-foot finishes that gave his side a momentum they never relinquished. The veteran defender Giorgio Chiellini added to Barcelona’s misery when he scored from a corner in the second half, his first goal in the competition since 2009.
Poor defending contributed to Barcelona’s downfall and they still seemed to be suffering some side-effects from the 2-0 defeat at Málaga on Saturday which dented their La Liga title hopes. That defeat was compounded by the sending off of Neymar, who has been banned for three matches meaning he will miss the clásico against Real Madrid on 23 April.
However, despite their problems Barça’s captain, Andrés Iniesta, still believes they will reach the semi-finals in light of their performance in overcoming a 4-0 first-leg deficit against PSG to win the last-16 tie 6-5 on aggregate.
“We will turn the tie around if we do things as we need to do in Barcelona,” he said. “Juve are a good team but when you don’t do things well you get punished. We don’t feel as bad as we did in Paris but we have another big mountain to climb.”
Given that comeback it was no surprise Dybala warned against any complacency on Juventus’s part. “We played a great game and we made the best of the chances we had. It is certainly a great result ahead of the return leg. We are in a very good position and we’re playing with great confidence but we cannot relax because it will be very difficult at the Camp Nou.”
Juventus made the brighter start and nearly took the lead after three minutes. After Iniesta fouled Dybala, Miralem Pjanic’s free-kick found the head of the former Real Madrid striker Gonzalo Higuaín but his effort was too close to Marc-André ter Stegen and easily saved.
It proved a temporary reprieve. Juan Cuadrado, on loan from Chelsea, cut in from the right and slipped the ball to Dybala inside the penalty area. In one sharp movement he turned and curled a perfectly judged shot into the far corner beyond the diving Ter Stegen.
Barcelona at last worked their way into the Juventus half with Ivan Rakitic, Luis Suárez and Messi combining on the right. The result was a foul on the edge of the area but from the resulting free-kick Messi sent his effort into the crowd.
Juventus continued to look the more threatening side, particularly when Cuadrado and Dybala combined as they did dangerously in the 19th minute before Samuel Umtiti intervened.
Barcelona then went close to an equaliser. Messi played in Iniesta and his early, low shot towards the bottom right‑hand corner was saved superbly by Gigi Buffon. The home side’s response was to double their lead. Barça left too much space down the left and when the ball was cut back to Dybala on the edge of the box he rifled it home, beating Ter Stegen at his near post.
To spice up the proceeding the former Barcelona player Dani Alves was booked for a foul on Neymar. Then Mario Mandzukic and Messi swapped pleasantries, with the referee giving the Croatia international the benefit of his counsel.
Barcelona began the second half aggressively with Suárez being foiled by Buffon, Messi going close after an excellent move, Neymar sending a long-range effort well off target and Iniesta shooting over.
At the other end Cuadrado set up Higuaín whose shot was easily saved. He missed an even better chance before Juventus again found the net when Chiellini outjumped Javier Mascherano from a corner to head home.